A big swanky Academy screening of Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour happens tonight, followed by a lobby party with the usual press and Academy types munching and schmoozing. But you know what the real occasion is, the real agenda? An official, communal acknowledgment that Gary Oldman is the most likely winner of the 2017 Best Actor Oscar.
Ever since Darkest Hour debuted in Telluride nine weeks ago conventional wisdom (i.e., the Gold Derby gang, those groovy Gurus) has been stating that Oldman’s flamboyantly twitchy, broadly conceived performance as Winston Churchill — heavy latex, cigar, cane, bowler hat — is the one to beat.
Daniel Day-Lewis‘ late-arriving performance in Phantom Thread could result in a winning surge, especially given that Reynolds Woodcock is supposed to be DDL’s swan-song performance. Some feel that Denzel Washington‘s brilliant-but-quirky-attorney performance in Dan Gilroy‘s Roman J. Israel is tied with Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Boston bombing victim in David Gordon Green‘s Stronger. Tom Hanks‘ turn as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in Steven Spielberg‘s The Post looks like a keeper, but Hanks has won twice before (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump). Considering his 21 years on the planet, Timothee Chalamet‘s expected Best Actor nomination for his Call Me By Your Name performance will be a triumph in itself.
I just can’t see Oldman not winning. His Winston Churchill performance is broadly, at times hammily effective. There’s the “we’re sorry you lost the last time” factor with Oldman having nearly won six years ago for playing George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Solder Spy. And finally there’s the “he’s paid his dues and done great work for 30-plus years so it’s time to finally give him the gold” thinking. It doesn’t feel as if Oldman’s breakout debut in Alex Cox‘s Sid and Nancy happened 31 years ago, agreed, but it’s definitely been that long. Ronald Reagan was president then.
From my Telluride review: “Darkest Hour is partly a celebration of the fighting spirit of Winston Churchill (winningly played by Gary Oldman in a colorful, right-down-the-middle, straight-over-the-plate performance) and partly a political drama about the wavering discord and uncertainty that gripped the British leadership in the early days of Churchill’s first term as prime minister.
“It’s basically the governmental deliberation side of Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk, or the handling of that disaster and matters of backbone and patriotism and never-say-die in May and early June of 1940.
“It feels familiar and well-trod (how could it not be given all the recent Churchill portrayals?) but rousingly straightforward. It’s a stirringly square, well-handled audience movie.
“Will Oldman’s aimed-at-the-rafters performance result in a Best Actor nomination? You betcha. He gives the kind of classically actor-ish, heavily-made-up turn that could have been performed back in the ’80s, or even the ’50s. There will be no ignoring Oldman’s work here. It’s a golden-oldie performance, a recalling of a certain kind of stalwart 20th Century Englishman, traditionally theatrical and a bit grandiose, all strut and backbone, and delivered with plenty of punch and Whitehall attitude.
From Oldman’s Wiki page: “Oldman’s ‘big’ acting style, which hearkens back to his classical theatre training, become his trademark; this encompassed “playing everything” via layered performances that vividly express each character’s emotions and internal conflicts. Oldman has conceded that he often overacts on screen, and said: ‘It’s my influence on those roles that probably they feel bigger than life and a little over-the-top. I mean, I do go for it a bit as an actor, I must admit.’
“Stuart Heritage of The Guardian wrote, ‘Finding the definitive Gary Oldman ham performance is like trying to choose which of your children you prefer… the man is a long-term devotee of the art of ham.'”